What you see here is the user growth of Facebook.  I wanted to share this graph because this is how the biggest internet property of our times grew.  It is interesting that it looks more like a linear graph than an exponential graph.  It is steep, but it is steady.  We know that that growth will not continue as there are around 2 billion people on the Internet, and Facebook is not allowed in some huge countries like China.  So in not too long, that curve will start flattening.  Therefore, when you make your projections make sure they are but a fraction of this growth curve!

 Facebook User Growth (4)

TT logo pic 13This year Nina and I are thrilled to announce that we have teamed up with Founders Forum to bring you the first ever Founders Forum Menorca TechTalk 2013, which will be held at our farm on the island. We invite outstanding entrepreneurs from around the world to enjoy a relaxed weekend together in a beautiful setting. The 2013 edition will run from Friday, June 28th to Sunday, June 30th.

On June 29th, our guests will give a series of short improvised debates on technology and innovation. As in previous years, we invite the public to attend the TechTalk Open Doors event and join us for an afternoon of dialogue and interaction with some of the greatest minds in the tech world. The event will take place on Saturday afternoon from 4:30-7:30pm. If you are interested in joining us, please contact us at menorcatechtalk@ff.co to secure a spot (capacity limited to 80). 

We look forward to welcoming you to our farm to share an inspiring afternoon together!

When people use a laptop, they expect everything to be free, and when they use a smartphone they expect to pay. That is the main reason why the laptop eco-system is dying and smartphones are thriving.

Laptops have traditionally been expensive.  For a couple of decades now we have gotten used to paying over $1,000 for one– the average selling price of a Mac is $1,400.  Smartphones however are almost free.  While Google is beginning to have some success selling the Nexus 4, most people are reluctant to pay for a smartphone. They expect it subsidized or free. But what is remarkable is how the user behavior changes after the acquisition of the gadget.  A phone consumer expects a phone for free, but what happens afterwards they are willing to pay for in excess (e.g. texting, voice minutes, data roaming), even when free alternatives exist. It is a different frame of mind, almost like a deal, an agreement between corporations and consumers:  get something for free and pay later, vs get something that is expensive upfront and then stop paying. A laptop is a big investment upfront to enter a mostly free world.  A smartphone is a tiny investment upfront to enter an expensive, yet very much accepted world. A laptop is an all-you-can-eat experience, including an all-you-can-eat fixed internet connection.  In the laptop world piracy is rampant because people expect everything to be free, but much less so in the smartphone world.  And this is almost psychological: the same people who pirate on laptops don’t as commonly pirate on smartphones, even though for example there are many bit torrent clients for Android.  A smartphone is an “a la carte” experience in which every component is paid for and dearly, including data packages.  As a result the smartphone eco-system is well funded and thriving but the PC or laptop eco-system is dying, making the laptop experience less and less “fun”.  Since 2011 more smartphones are sold than PCs.  This is mostly because developers and content producers need to get paid, and they are seeing much more money developing or producing for iOS and Android than for Windows and Mac.

Moreover “smartphone only” experiences are on the rise.  Path, Foursquare, Uber, Instagram and Whatsapp are but some examples of these. When smartphones started, people used to say that they fell short of what was available on the Web.  Now the opposite is true.  People using laptops have to have smartphones handy as well.  And this is even more extreme with games.  As developers realized that few wanted to pay for games on laptops but many more were willing to pay for games on smartphones/tablets, they switched to develop for iOS and Android.  And games became huge on mobile.

This perception translates to the investment world.  For example Instagram is a free app and yet Facebook paid almost a billion for it.  They didn’t pay concretely because of the money they thought they would make out of Instagram itself, but because as young as it is Facebook was until recently a PC company and in Instagram it found a short cut to the mobile world. In general VCs now are much more likely to invest in a mobile platform than in a PC platform even if the mobile platform like Instagram had no way to monetize itself.  Mobile growth has the same premium Web growth had a decade ago. And this is regardless of the fact that so far, for example in advertising, it is easier to monetize on the web than on mobile. This is because everyone sees the future as mostly mobile.

For many years, when phones were phones and PCs were PCs, there was a tough debate on how content and software producers were going to get paid.  And the answer, provided by Steve Jobs, turned out to be get people hooked on a device that was a computer but one in which everyone had to pay, and call it a phone.  There was always another possible alternative, which was open source software and user generated content. That still exists, mostly promoted by Google, but even Google had to adopt the content/software world of Apple to make Android thrive.

Now before I end, here is a list of secondary reasons to explain why smartphones and tablets are killing PCs (or why iOS and Android are killing Windows and OSX):

-Smartphones expanded into tablets and they started competing in screen size with one of the few advantages left for PCs.

-People are finally getting used to glass keyboards (some apps like Swiftkey make them more friendly), and can therefore bid farewell to their keyboards.

-Laptops are more for content producers and most people are content consumers. That’s why the work environment is still dominated by PCs and probably will be for a long time.

-Smartphones are much easier to carry around and therefore open to a whole set of apps, like for example sports apps.

-Smartphones offer connectivity via WiFi and mobile and most laptops only WiFi; WiFi is common but not as pervasive as mobile and therefore a smartphone/tablet has the best of both worlds.

-One of the biggest advantages of laptops is storage, but cloud computing is taking care of that.

-The hardware that is needed to provide a great mobile experience uses energy in a smarter way than the hardware that is needed to provide a great laptop experience.

-While there are very affordable laptops now, they are not as inexpensive as great smartphones that are given out for free or almost nothing in contracts, and laptops are in a head-on race between processor speed and RAM and programs that makes inexpensive laptops appear as just bad products.

But overall I stand by my initial thought; that is, the main reason smartphones are killing PCs is because there is more money in smartphones and while information wants to be free it costs money to produce it.  At the risk of gaining many enemies with my statement, I would like to change the famous “information wants to be free” to “information wants to be affordable”. I can agree with Aaron Swartz that science that can only be afforded at expensive universities is wrong, but still the key is not to make things free, it’s to make them affordable. To make information affordable, content affordable, and software affordable.  And mobile platforms seem to have achieved a better balance at this than laptops ever did. That is why they are thriving. Better format, better business model.  That simple.

To read many more  comments on this post please see it in LinkedIn.

(Photo: fishbrain.randy@sbcglobal.net, Flickr)

Everyone says that Facebook fights privacy because they grow by making you and everyone else, very public.  And that part is obvious, if they don’t encourage you to be less private they have no network.  But there is a countertrend to that and that is post IPO monetization.  Now that Facebook got 1 billion people to share their intimate and mostly irrelevant moments they hope to make money by you being so desperate for the attention that you got used to having that you start paying NOT to be private.  In order to achieve this Facebook is now making you less popular, or more private against your will.

So the new Facebook, the post IPO “have to meet the next quarter numbers” Facebook, is paradoxically more private, unless you pay of course. But if you don’t pay, less is disclosed about you to others because those who pay increasingly crowd you out.  And paradoxically a new privacy will be achieved.

Recently there has been an increased focus on our barriers to multitasking. For example, imagine yourself driving as you receive a twitter update or an SMS on your cell phone. Without a driverless car, your eyes must be focused on the road with your hands on the steering wheel, not on your phone. And that’s just one case; the desire for visual and tactile independence is true for any situation where your attention is required elsewhere. In this sense, I am starting to see more and more options for programs to read information aloud.

The improvement in speech recognition and text-to-speech programs has transformed our interactions with smartphones. For example, the Samsung Galaxy SIII comes equipped with “Driving mode”: a service that announces incoming calls, reads inbound text messages and emails, and allows you to reply back orally. Furthermore, look at personal assistant services like Siri and Sherpa. These apps provide a way to essentially maintain an oral conversation with your mobile device, accessing data from the phone’s systems, apps and internet sites. I find these programs valuable; I rely on my mobile phone primarily as a source of news and updates from my social networks.

For this reason, some months ago I created an Android app called RadioMe. In September it was improved and renamed SpotRadio. It’s a radio that reads your social media feeds, so that you can receive your Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn updates by spoken word. I personally find it most useful on my bike trips, which are often long and well accompanied by a mix of music and personal news.

What’s more, in the market for social DJ apps I have a great competitor: The Social Radio. Its creator Roberto Gluck and I recently discussed the similarities and differences between our apps with the hope of improvement on both ends.

The Social Radio has many advantages – its default TTS program provides a more realistic, less robotic voice that changes between male and female. It recognizes two more languages than SpotRadio, one of which is Russian. The app has Android, iOS and web versions, while SpotRadio currently only supports Android. Its interface is simple like SpotRadio’s, and although it has less options for configuring frequency and duration of music and social news, it offers more choices for receiving Twitter news: you can listen to customized lists or trending topics as opposed to the full stream.

However, The Social Radio doesn’t read other social media networks- it’s only available for Twitter, whereas SpotRadio can integrate Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and SMS. At the same time, the app consumes much more bandwidth than SpotRadio because the voices are synthesized on an external server, rather than on the device itself. Additionally, while SpotRadio keeps social media account information within the app, The Social Radio requires authorizing access to Twitter account every time the app is opened. SpotRadio provides your social news in written form, recognizes duplicate updates and won’t read the provider of the update if you prefer not to hear it- options unavailable in The Social Radio.

The Social Radio and SpotRadio are two new tools of many that offer the ability to receive spoken notifications from your handheld device. Whether accessing your Facebook updates or reading you an email, this auditory trend is convenient and increasingly relevant to multitaskers. In any case, it should take off even further as improvement in TTS and voice recognition technology continues.

For the last hour I have been testing a Google Chromebook made by Samsung.

At $249 there is not so much you can complain about.  It is a decent piece of hardware for a super low price. If the competition is say a MacBook Air for $1000, which is what the hardware resembles, the price is unbeatable.  But is it a MacBook Air? That’s the problem.  It is far from it. The Chromebook is a solution if you are both addicted to Google Products and are broke.  Otherwise it is much better to get a MacBook Air, a Windows PC, an Ubuntu PC, an Android tablet or an iPad mini.

Now if you, like me, find glass keyboards only a temporary solution in your life, a price to pay for the lightness of an iPad or an Android tablet, but an inconvenient way to write a post like this one, then you need a real keyboard.  And if you need a real keyboard until now your choices were a PC, a Mac, a Linux (Ubuntu) PC.  As of this week you can add a Chromebook to the list, especially if you are on a budget. Because the Chromebook has a real keyboard, it’s simple, light and fast, it opens and shuts like a MacBook or better.  But while the MacBook Air is a machine that can work in standalone mode and online, the Chromebook is practically useless when it’s not online. The Chromebook is all you can ever do with the Chrome browser in one PC. Plus a very limited set of functions that do not require you to be online. The Chromebook is a cloud based device where the cloud is Google.

On the bright side, as a cloud device, the Chromebook comes with a 100GB Google Drive which is like the biggest Dropbox you have ever encountered, and it does have an SD card reader that allows you to upload any type of files to your Google drive, most commonly pictures and videos to the cloud. Also it has an ARM processor which is the processor type that tablets and mobile devices use and different companies license from ARM.  This processor consumes much less power and the Chromebook runs fanless and cold which is phenomenal if you’re fed up with how the Macs burn your legs after some time.

Conclusion, if you are already a fan of Google products and are on a budget go for it. Otherwise get an Intel based PC if you like Microsoft or a Mac, or reflash your Windows machine with Ubuntu.  All those choices will give you many more functionalities that are unavailable in a Chromebook like for example, iTunes, photo editing programs, video editing programs, and so on.

Now the question is, why not build a Chromebook that runs Android?  I would love that, to have access to the Android app eco system, to be able both to type and touch the screen.  I would like to see exactly the same hardware with Android, maybe there’s a hack for that. I could not find it.  What I did find is a hack to make Ubuntu run on a Chromebook.  Will try that next.

I just paid $38 to Facebook to promote a post I wrote in Spanish about the iPad Mini and Surface. I did it because I find the business model kind of absurd but want to understand what the rationale behind this is. I also did it because I was surprised the price was $38, like the failed IPO price. You would imagine that Facebook would have given up on charging $38 for anything and I wanted to see what I would get for $38.

I still think that Facebook should offer a $5 per month no ads version of its service. I dislike the fact that Facebook gives me the service for free and is always trying to think how to milk me as a user an activity for which it has an incentive to invade my privacy in all sorts of way.  Especially in trying to make me as public as possible to sell me as a product to others.  Facebook’s ads are so irrelevant, so much worse than those of Google, so irritating.

And there is the language issue as well. I hope FB realizes that my post is in Spanish and does not spam everyone who reads in English with it. I know this sounds absurd and it is so easy to recognize languages. SpotRadio and RadioMe, apps that I developed for Android do this very well on the fly and for many languages at the same time. But Facebook frequently shows me ads that encourage me to learn Spanish. So how aware is Facebook of who I am? It also frequently shows me great looking women with no friends in common with me to befriend and ads for all sorts of ways of meet women even though I am happily married and said I found those ads offensive.

I should have said this at the beginning, I am debating to buy shares in Facebook which has an incredible asset but so far does not know how to monetize it. I bought at $25 but sold at $22 not convinced because all the well known insiders are selling. So I have decided to do this $38 experiment to test a part of their business model. Especially since ads on the web are so easily blocked with Ad Blockers and ads on mobile are tough to monetize at all let’s see what happens.  Will complete the post later as I find out.

I’m happy to announce that I’ve recently improved on a project of mine. An Android app I designed some time ago, RadioMe, has been upgraded to SpotRadio. I came up with the idea of a “social media DJ” while on a bike ride. I usually would listen to music, but I hated the thought of not knowing what was going on around me, of not being connected. I had to stop mid-bike ride to check e-mails and read Facebook/Twitter streams. RadioMe solved this problem, and SpotRadio makes it better.

SpotRadio is a social radio that plays your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, LinkedIn, Google Reader and SMS so you LISTEN to it instead of looking at the screen. It allows you to be listening simultaneously to any music player on your phone, for example Spotify or Play Music. When you receive updates, SpotRadio turns the music down on these players, and turns it up again as soon as you’re up-to-date.

You can configure how frequently you want to be updated, and how many updates should be read during the “social break”. To make it easy, you only need to define the “music period” and the “update period” (e.g. ten minutes listening to music, then two minutes social updates, then back to music for ten minutes…). It’s perfect for when you ride your bike, drive around in your car or simply prefer to hear what’s going on rather than reading it.

The app is multilingual, so it can read updates in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and even in Japanese and Simplified Chinese. You just have to tell SpotRadio which languages to detect. If you get an incoming call, SpotRadio pauses automatically. You can configure the volume of the music/updates, whether you want SpotRadio to stop reading upon shaking, temporarily turn off certain providers, etc. Duplicate updates are automatically recognized and only one will be read. The notification bar at the top of your Android’s screen indicates whether SpotRadio is talking, downloading updates or waiting.

One really important aspect is the speech synthesis. The standard PICO TTS voice included in every Android device sounds like a robot from the 80’s with a cold. So if you want to use this app more comfortably, you should definitely install SVOX TTS from the Android Market- it sounds better and is quite cheap. I designed SpotRadio, and it was built by Alberto Alonso Ruibal.

Over the past two years I’ve published lists of what I call tweetphorisms (tweets + aphorisms). Check out part 1 and part 2. Here’s the third round!

  • Knowledge and conviction seem to be inversely correlated in most people
  • Silicon Valley vs San Francisco: the choice is great weather and boredom or bad weather and fun.
  • As a parent I rarely punish bad behavior. I reward good behavior to the point that opportunity cost of bad behavior is too high 🙂
  • He who never arrived at school afraid of being beaten up was… a bully.
  • A way to understand how developed a nation is is watching how drivers treat pedestrians.
  • When government policies fail, many think that whoever implemented them was evil. Why is it so hard to think they were just wrong?
  • One of the benefits of doing well is be able to say what you believe is true. Also one of the benefits of not running for office.
  • Some have a hard time changing their mind because they think that when they change their mind they change their values.
  • In life you should aim very high. Because, if you miss, you may still end up high enough.
  • In my world everything is possible, some things are probable, few are likely and nothing is certain
  • One of the reason that such few people are successful in business is because few understand the concept of probability tied to risk
  • Two benefits of the crisis, less pollution, less money for corruption.
  • The ego concept has evolved over time to only mean big ego. But having the right amount of ego is essential to do well in life.
  • Being Jewish is a culture that sometimes comes accompanied by a religion.
  • Americans think Europe has a lot of crazy laws. Europeans think America has a lot of crazy lawyers.
  • I think all languages should start calling countries by the name they chose for themselves. We would all learn more about the world.
  • Shaving used to be the only activity that felt like it would last for weeks but only lasted a day. Now it’s shaving and updating apps.
  • The problem with generalizations is bad generalizations, others are extremely useful, in business and in life.
  • You are only as happy as your saddest child
  • In German the word for blame and debt is the same: schuld
  • A company stops being a start up when it becomes self sufficient, profitable, sustainable.
  • International security worries nowadays are not about tanks, but about banks.
  • Knowing how to explain yourself is almost more important than having something to say.
  • Hedge funds exist because even though information is widely distributed intelligence is not.
  • Copyright holders make a mistake calling file sharers Pirates. Pirates are likable characters for kids.
  • Holding yourself to a high standard is great. But for happiness sake, better set somewhat lower standards and overachieve.
  • Many think there’s a lot of value in secrecy. But in start ups there is a lot more value in sharing!
  • I would love to see a calendar that is made of days of the year from 1 to 365 without regard to weeks of months.
  • People think that an IPO makes people rich when what it does, is it makes them liquid.
  • I wonder what the world would be like if transplanting a brain was as easy as transplanting a kidney
  • Universities make a mistake funding research through teaching. Being good at research does not mean being a great teacher.
  • What works best in the world is capitalism moderated by a welfare state.
  • One positive aspect of Twitter is that it encourages people to disclose things that otherwise they would keep to themselves.
  • During the last decades, we have gone from wanting to know to wanting to believe. Last time we did that we got the Middle Ages.
  • Maybe Catholic countries have more problems in becoming democratic because catholicism isn’t.
  • When dressing formally men are supposed to look all alike and women to make sure that none of them look alike.
  • Entrepreneurs are smart people with a compass for opportunity
  • 10 years later: the Internet Bubble was not Internet destroying the financial sector but the financial sector destroying Internet.
  • Considering how unAmerican Jesus was in his thinking it is surprising how much he is followed in USA
  • Some say there are too many people in the planet but I think that there are more people to come up with solutions to our problems.
  • I wonder how many products we use regularly would improve if there were no patents.
  • Complacency: if you repeatedly tell people how great they are they may not be so for much longer.
  • The problem with experience is that it makes you apply old solutions to new problems

My history with Facebook goes back to 2006 when I joined the service, then 2007 when I first visited their HQ in Palo Alto and wrote that I was so impressed with the company that I thought it would be worth over $10bn.  That number that sounded so crazy then is but a fraction of its vaue today.  And then a year later I helped Mark Zuckerberg launch Facebook in Spanish. Here’s a video of the two of us. Needless to say that Mark Zuckerberg is an absolute genius when it gets to build THE social network.

Still I did not buy Facebook shares in the IPO.  I should clarify that I am a long term investor, not a trader but $38 seemed to high a valuation for me.  I was waiting for the shares to come down.

Before the earnings announcement I had bought some Facebook shares at $28 and a few hours ago I bought more shares at $23. And I have another order to buy more if they get to $20.

Here’s my rational.

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

Facebook is an amazing company, it has a good chunk of the richest segment of humanity glued to its service. The share of global income of people with Facebook accounts must be, in my view, at least half of all global income.  Not only do they have a billion users but they have the billion with the most money.  The top billion.

That Facebook is so great at engagement but so bad at monetization sounds to me as a more solvable problem than the exact opposite and that’s why I am buying the shares.

Right now Facebook seems to get $2 per user per quarter. I can’t believe they are not going to be able to get double that in the near future. If Google owned FB, how much would they get out of its user base? Google gets over $40bn in revenues from its user base now but its users and time on site are comparable to FB. So a good guess could be that FB could get 10X more revenues from their user base when they grow up.

Risks? that they never get good at monetization and/or that somebody else “myspaces” them.  That’s why I only recommend owning at most 3% of your net worth in Facebook shares. My main holdings are Apple, Google and Amazon and my portfolio exposure to Facebook is very small. But now I am a shareholder.

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